Monday, November 9, 2009

Instant Classic: Joyful Noise by Various Artists

Joyful Noise by Various Artists [I Grade Records, 2009]

Due to an influx of some SERIOUSLY wonderful material this year, I can probably name you names you three or four albums released within this calendar year that I’d deem worthy of the label ‘MODERN CLASSIC’. And, on top of that, there may be as many as three or four more which, due to their levels of popularity and a quality which may not be at the absolute highest level, but is SO close that the masses (and maybe even me too) will someday grow to acknowledge them as such also. HOWEVER, that being said, you’ll notice that I’ve only chosen one album from 2009 to include in my never ending search to find these ‘modern classics’ and that album is Joyful Noise. While I may or may not be compared to call it the absolute best album altogether from the year (and I’m not), it is CLEARLY the finest Reggae compilation to be had of any kind in 2009 and as I believe I said in the actual review for the album, it’s probably the best Reggae compilation of any kind within the past half decade and maybe even the past decade. DEFINITELY what we’re dealing with here is a landmark release of sorts and one which, although it may not produce tunes destined to permeate the ‘mainstream’ (whatever that means), it is well on its way to becoming an album from which nearly EVERY SINGLE TUNE, leaves the hardcore Reggae heads with downright unforgettable moments. It also happens to be probably the single most INTERESTING project that I’ve encountered this year, which for the sake of exploration is always a PLUS. Let’s examine!

The Riddims

The Harvest Riddim: The Harvest Riddim is a very colourful, yet laid back vibes which may honestly take a minute or two to grow on you (depending on which tune catches your ears first), but ultimately, it’s just lovely and it’s also a vibe that, in my opinion, is very accessible to the artists. While such a task certainly requires SKILL, you don’t need any crazy flash or gimmick to voice the Harvest riddim successfully and, in fact, adding such unnecessary things may even harm one’s chances over the sweet sweet piece.

Best Tune: Song Of Praise by Arkaingelle

The Discipline Riddim: This one is a vibed a bit more ‘regularly’ I’d say. By no means is it ‘regular’ or ‘average’ in terms of quality, however, it is very nice. There is something I have in my head of a kind of SOLID sound when I think of that quintessential ‘VI Reggae sound’ and it’s exhibited all over the Discipline riddim. It doesn’t try too hard to impress, it doesn’t add many nuances (although that oft-heard horn is a very nice changeup), but it doesn’t need tricks like that and instead impresses STRICTLY on the basis of being what it is.

Best Tune: Footsteps by Queen Omega

The Flying High Riddim: Did I say the Discipline was that quintessential VI Reggae sound??? Well if that was the case, then the nearly hypnotic Flying High riddim is even more ‘quintessentialer’ (no. That’s not really a word). This dazzling piece takes almost its entire cue from a spiraling trombone (courtesy of Balboa Becker of Celebrity Hornz, who also plays on the Harvest) which leads it, ultimately, to its many successes. And those successes, in terms of quality of tunes on the album, may just make the Flying High the most CONSISTENT riddim on Joyful Noise.

Best Tune: [Just changed my mind about this one] Flying High by Jahdan Blakkamoore

The Grasslands Riddim: While the Flying High may be the most consistent set on the album, my own personal favourite is definitely the Grasslands. Besides backing two of my favourite (including my absolute favourite) tunes on the album, the Grasslands itself, a rather ‘jazzy’ sounding piece of brilliance bolstered by a ‘built in’ bridge (where the horns just release themselves on the piece at one time all of a sudden, is a MASTERCLASS and I wouldn’t have very much of a problem with at all if it were to pop again somewhere in the future.

Best Tune: Modern Pharaoh by Pressure


#1. Hard Times by Duane Stephenson [Harvest Riddim]

I have to say (again) that I was very surprised to see Duane Stephenson on Joyful Noise (twice), but now, a few weeks on, even though I can bring in names like Dezarie, Ras Attitude, Army or even Million Voice who may have been included, at this point, I can’t even begin to imagine this wonderful album without his presence. ‘Hard Times’ is Exhibit A. This tune is just so EASY, yet so powerfully poignant and a really HUGE social commentary. The vibe here is definitely mature, as you probably can’t tell the urgency of the situation because Stephenson isn’t changing his voice, he isn’t straining himself, it almost seems like he’s sitting around just singing about the things around him which gives the song this powerful kind of instinctive or natural type of vibes which you just can’t create in some studio somewhere. It has to REALLY be there.

Line of the song: “It’s a long way from the city and many won’t last the day. Some will break down and pray, for their journey has gone astray”

#2. Footsteps by Queen Omega [Discipline Riddim]

Trini Empress Queen Omega essentially lays the Discipline riddim to RUINS on the MASSIVE ‘Footsteps’ which is increasingly typically brilliant material from the still young veteran. Footsteps is the first of quite a few tunes in pure praise of His Majesty and Queen Omega brings a bit of fire with it also! Seemingly an ocean away from the days of ‘I Believe In Love’, the Queen still, amazingly, breaths a bit of soft spoken vibe into an otherwise flame throwing tune. The result is a tune which is spectacular throughout and I’m not afraid to admit it. . . I cried a little.

Line of the song: “He’s for real! He promises to lengthen my days, if I would only give HIM the praise”

#3. Everlasting by The Nazarenes [Flying High Riddim]

The maiden voyage for the soon to be very familiar Flying High riddim becomes increasingly spectacular each and every time I vibe it. Playing as a ‘gift’ to the wonderful brotherly duo from out of Ethiopia, The Nazarenes, the horns of the Flying High almost seem to trumpet in the coming of a King and that is EXACTLY what they’re doing as The Nazarenes embark on ‘Everlasting’, a highly spiritual vibes which grow throughout t he duration of the song. Near the end of this piece, the vibes are just so high, but I would still have to warn you: The Nazarenes is and has always been for the completely more MATURE crowd, newer fans won’t be able to handle and comprehend this type of subtle power.

Line of the song: “Kingdom rise. Kingdom falls. But one thing for sure, Jah love is eternal”

#4. Modern Pharaoh by Pressure [Grasslands Riddim]

Weeks later and Pressure’s ‘Modern Pharaoh’ is STILL my favourite tune to be found on Joyful Noise (although I can now name about fourteen or so tunes with LEGITIMATE similar claims). The tune, in my opinion, combines that essential wonderful and edifying message with a SOUND which is just as gratifying and demonstrably powerful. This song, above all others, has become that one which is so clearly attached to the emotion I feel even when I just SEE that beautiful cover art. And if you listen to it strictly lyrically, although it definitely has a set topic, it REALLY does combine quite a few ideas to get where it ultimately goes and somewhere in that journey, for me, is the most powerful vibes on Joful Noise. EPIC!

Line of the song: “Modern Pharaoh, release the shackles and chains. I don’t fear you! Because the same blood flows through my veins”

#5. Song of Praise By Arkaingelle [Harvest Riddim]

Nice to see that the lesser known Guyanese chanter on Joyful Noise is still ‘manifesting joy’ all over the place! The very simple, but very natural and free flowing ‘Song Of Praise’ may be only one of a few or so tunes that I’ve heard from the Arkaingelle since he dropped his debut album O’Pen last year and I definitely remain very impressed. This tune, again, is just so sweet and serene that it almost comes off as no one set out to make a record here. Someone just happened to catch someone singing a tune and a band playing a piece. Seriously, you spin this one about ten times or so and you have a hard time calling ANYTHING on the album ‘better’, even the mega shot which precedes it.

Line of the song: “Sing a song of joy. Sing a song of praise. Bless I length of days. Guide us on our way”

#6. Judgment In Measurement by Midnite [Discipline Riddim]

And what would an album like this be without at least one contribution from Vaughn Benjamin (and there’re two actually)? Probably STILL regarded as the dominant face (and force) in Virgin Islands Reggae music, Vaughn Benjamin’s presence on such a piece is pretty much mandatory and, of course, it doesn’t hurt from a musical point of view that the man is a genius. That’s evident all over ‘Judgement In Measurement’ (did you catch that? Did you see what I did there???), even though, as is his norm, it may just take you three or four rounds to realize it.

Line of the song: “Temerity and sagacity, like nuclear chain reacting. All across the globe you can see how it became set”

#7. Flying High by Jahdan Blakkamoore [Flying High Riddim]

Pretty much the man of the moment is Jahdan Blakkamoore and he takes flight on the title track for the riddim of his song, ‘Flying High’. This one, for me, struck as a tune about overcoming and it almost has a sense of ENTITLEMENT to it. It’s not like a thousand songs you’ll hear telling people to ‘be strong inna di Gideon’ or ‘Jah will come’, Jahdan takes things even a step further with pushing a vibes that the oppressed minorities of society are not only to overcome, simply because it is a MUST, but because it is a BIRTHRIGHT! And failure to do so is overall a failure of acceptance of self. What a DEEP and simply divine message on this HUGE tune.

Line of the song: “Back from mentally overcoming the psychological stress of post traumatic slavery syndrome. Like a fish out of water we’ve been transplanted and still come fi burn down babylon kingdom” [DAMN!]

#8. I’m Fine by Duane Stephenson [Grasslands Riddim]

The Prince of August Town returns with his second effort on Joyful Noise, ’I’m Fine’, which actually tops his first go round on Joyful Noise. In the midst of all this consciousness and point making and praising and socially commentating, I’m Fine is just pure and unadulterated, ‘my damn feelings hurt and I’m going to sing about it! Deal with it.’ In terms of melody and just sounding NICE, I’m Fine has more than a pretty strong claim to being the best tune altogether on Joyful Noise (you’ll be singing along on that chorus INSTANTLY).

Line of the song: “Baby I’m sitting in the corner, but I’m fine, I’m fine, never mind”

#9. The Reason by Junior P [Harvest Riddim]

I don’t know that I have enough of a background in vibing Junior P’s music to say that ‘The Reason’ is ‘typical‘ or ‘normal’ by his standards, in terms of how it is actually written. Regardless of it being his style or not, The Reason is kind of an initially veiled antiviolence tune. You listen to the chorus of the song and he waits to the last possible line to say “you want a badman name”, while preceding it with demanding “the reason” (instead of telling you what the reason is, which is what you assume he is going to do). The verses actually point out what’s going on as the Cruzan chanter, seemingly FED UP with the gun wants to know the reason why those who are doing such, engage in so much crazy shit! Excellent question. Even more powerful tune.

Line of the song: “I feel the pain: When I read the newspaper sight a next life slain. I feel the pain: Another bredrin of mine, life gone down the drain, so insane”

#10. Discipline by Lutan Fyah [Discipline Riddim]

It’s a bit of a mystery to me that I haven’t responded even more to Lutan Fyah master class of a tune, ‘Discipline’, the title track for the riddim which backs it, because it is clearly one of the best tunes on this album and from one of my favourite artists. Nevertheless, my unusual listening habits notwithstanding, the tune is top notch. It kind of reminds me of older kind of obscure tunes from Sizzla where the title would be something like ‘Powerful’ or ‘Diamonds & Pearls’ (both from the Be I Strong album) or ‘Wreckage’, where there was a pretty kind of usual word, but the tune was built in some brilliant way around that thought. Here, Fyah seems to operate under the overstanding that the concept of ‘discipline’ is already understood and then takes the listener on a wonderful journey of the positive results of owning and exhibiting said trait.

Line of the song: “. . . mi nah take no talk from no damn devil boy. Man richly blessed inna I, which the wicked come to destroy. Dem fail because we love Selassie I”

#11. Haile I by Isasha [Flying High Riddim]

Mr. ‘Don’t You Know’ makes a rather surprising but OUTSTANDING contribution to Joyful noise as the up and coming chanter from out of Trinidad follows the Empress very closely with ‘Haile I’. This tune is simply about giving thanks and PRAISE to a truly MASSIVE degree. If you haven’t been paying much attention, Isasha has been on a ROLL as of late musically and the crowning jewel of said great streak now becomes this downright HUMBLING gem of a tune.

Line of the song: “One of the most important days on di calendar: 1930 the second of November. The day, when dem crown up di Emperor: King of All Kings, Lion of Judah!”

#12. Youths by Batch [Grasslands Riddim]

The wizard makes the first of two very powerful statements on Joyful Noise, with ‘Youths’. This two (or three) tiered tune is definitely one of the best on the album and it earns its rank largely based on two things in my opinion. The first is that, from a sonic degree, it’s amazing. Batch is quickly becoming an artist whose SOUND is very unique without actually straining to be so. The other attraction on the tune are the lyrics of course. Batch also happens to be, very quietly, one of the greatest wordsmiths in Reggae today in my opinion and here, he designs a tune which, ostensibly, is aimed at teaching the young people of the world the right and potentially right directions to go, but perhaps even more importantly, he sends it to the parents and mentors and potential parents and mentors as well to remind US not to take our roll for granted and keep OUR heads on properly as well for the children.

Line of the song: “Ghetto youths see what a gwan. You set them up to fight. Cheating and competing for the idle prize. Silly parents idle for the sacrifice. Slave master pay them price”

#13. Hold On by Danny I [Harvest Riddim]

Determination and Perseverance are the order of today on Danny I’s ‘Hold On’. Like the tune before it, Hold On, is a very DEEP song and has multiple approaches and even multiple point of views. Here, what you’ll notice is the fact that, almost in the same breath, Danny I will address the sufferer, by telling him to do what the title suggests AND he’ll address those who may potentially cause the sufferer harm or stand in his/her way of achieving his/her goals and just generally being happy in life. I suspect that it is a dimension of the song and, by extension, the album as a whole, which will go largely overlooked, however, I won’t even have to tell the most discerning of listeners how powerful this song is, you already know.

Line of the song: “. . . where they really don’t know them, and they don’t care about them, but they learn what you show them, so how can you condemn them???”

#14. Gone Crazy by NiyoRah [Discipline Riddim]

EPIC! I told you when I wrote the review for the album that I could spend quite a joyful while analyzing the contents of NiyoRah’s ‘Gone Crazy because the song is just PACKED of so many different colourful vibes. The base here, at least it appears to be, is the hellacious state of the world’s economy, but Niyo uses that ideology and this wonderful EDGE he brings on this song (he literally sounds mad as hell) to expand into and expound onto MANY different subjects from television (“television have a purpose fi extract you, from Ivine type of energy Jah Jah give you”), to Gandhi (“Mahatma Gandhi fast for thirty days and bring, historically putting fyah pon dem membrane”) and a whole heap of other topics to which he draws (meaningful) tangents and parallels (as opposed to just bringing up nonsense which doesn’t make any sense) to the current crises and states of the world.

Line of the song: “. . . pagan system never give we any justice, just for that I and I say light up more spliff”

#15. Deep Tangle Roots by Midnite [Flying High Riddim]

How fitting of a coincidence is it that Vaughn Benjamin, in all of his wonderful cryptology, would bring a song titled ‘Deep Tangle Roots’ which could actually be set as a TITLE for his entire career to a degree. This one, however, is far less ‘tangled’ than a great deal of his material (especially recently) or is it? Despite the presence of a couple of hieroglyphically gifted lines (like the one you’ll find below this passage), Deep Tangle Roots’ intentions are fairly clear as the ‘roots’ are, of course, not in the sense of the music, Roots Reggae, but of the ‘roots’ of the earth, which like all roots need to be tended to, cared for and watered. Benjamin, unsurprisingly, finds solace and comfort in His Imperial Majesty, The Master Gardener.

Line of the song: “They saturate the people til the sugar cube can’t even mix in to the spin it overuse. Oh yeah. Certainly more audacious and bombastic thing the free market choose. We must produce don’t come like the chastisement bring good news. If that’s the direction they still choose, then don’t be lamenting on the news”

#16. Red Hot by Jahdan Blakkamoore [Grasslands Riddim]

Jahdan returns to give his offering on the Grasslands riddim, ’Red Hot’, and once again, he impresses to almost no end. This tune (almost inherently, via the riddim) is downright dazzling. You vibe that chorus and as simple as it most certainly is, it sounds SO complicated. The piece is also quite poignant as the title is a metaphor (duh) for the seriousness of times and, just in case you can’t quite pick that up from the vibes of most of the tune, there comes a point later on when Jahdan makes himself crystal clear that things are getting crucial by turning up the intensity and adding yet another dimension to this CRAZY talented artist, as if he needed it.

Line of the song: “How is it there, where you are? Is it safe to walk the streets? Is it free from war?”

#17. Your Own World by Messenjah Selah [Harvest Riddim]

The inimitable Messenjah Selah makes a very nice appearance on the album with ‘Your Own World’, which kind of builds on one of the vibes set forth by Jahdan in the previous tune as he examines those who simply (for a variety of reasons) seem to act as if the ills of the world do not exist because observing such atrocities will take away from them getting what they want (GREEDY AS FUCK!). And for such people, Selah also offers a view of exactly what’s going on and exactly why they may not want to see it, although it is WELL past time.

Line of the song: “Disease and sufferation permeates and plague the nation, while you perpetuate the works of Satan. Your aim, your motivation is to control population, so you don’t give a damn about the current situation”

#18. Love & Iverstanding by Sabbattical Ahdah [Discipline Riddim]

And then there’s Sabbattical Ahdah. If ever there was someone DESPERATELY in need of a publicist with an at least semi-functioning brain, it was Sabbattical Ahdah. On an album with quite a few names which probably stick well outside of even the hardest hardcore Reggae head, The Ahdah exists even outside of THOSE names. Shame though, as his effort here, ‘Love & Iverstanding’ goes to show, the Cruzan chanter has more talent (and LYRICS) than he probably needs to be at the level that he’s at these days. This tune is living and breathing musical textbook, it’s a beautiful one, best read for upliftment.

Line of the song: “Show I the splendours of your world and from the heavens to the earth, give I sight. If man be fruitful in Zion, they shall not suffer by the change of the times”

#19. We Want Reparations by Batch featuring NiyoRah & Danny I [Flying High Riddim]

I suppose the Flying High riddim is just so BIG that it takes three equally BIG artists to put a fitting seal on it on Joyful Noise??? It’s a one song, ‘We Want Reparations’ featuring three of the top talents on the Virgin Island scene, Ras Batch, NiyoRah and Danny I! This tune, as you might imagine, is just HEALTHY. It’s also quite all across the board and it’s so interesting seeing three different talented artists (and writers) take the same vibes (LITERALLY, the same riddim and the same topic) and doing what they do with it. Batch, for the most part, leads the song, Niyo comes in with the certain edge and things seem to even out so nicely when ‘airy’ singer Danny I comes through to finish things off on this tune which although it basically speaks for itself, doesn’t lead you in the stereotypical direction you might expect from such a tune.

Line of the song:

BATCH: “Look how them profit from free Afrikan labour. Who built up them cities and dem towns, laid down foundation without compensation. Never giving nothing to he offspring or the younger generation”

NIYORAH: “The conquistadors came and slaughtered my great-grand parents, they hanged and tortured (and basically his entire verse)”

DANNY I: “We gave you generations of the Royal Blood. We want reparations for our Royal Blood”

#20. Power of Love by Norris Man [Grasslands Riddim]

No, they didn’t save the best for last on Joyful Noise, but in a sense, maybe they did. I have been awfully critical (and rightly so in my opinion) (otherwise, I wouldn’t have been) of Norris Man over the past two or three years or so as I feel there has been a SIGNIFICANT drop off in terms of the quality of his music. Well, if over that same period of time, the only tune you’ve heard from the Trenchtown chanter has been ‘Power Of Love’, well then you probably think I’m full of shit, because this tune is BEAUTIFUL. This is a song which I feel makes such a nearly perfect usage of Norris’ style, which is definitely one of a kind and also his writing ability which often goes overlooked and even did in his prime, in my opinion. This tune is another ‘double-decker’ because what it does, very subtly, is to establish that powerful source in the world which can overcome all things (LOVE) and tie it to that “powerful source in the world which can overcome all things”. You’ll get what I’m talking about IMMEDIATELY and you’ll also get this scintillatingly DEEP tune.

Line of the song: “In them there is nothing left, yes. Nothing but stupidness. As dark as the night is, we can see all the faces. Performing works of inequity, yes. Blaspheming against The Almighty”

Synopsis: Even attempting to find some common defining line, much less a common PURPOSE on pretty much any compilation is a very difficult, if not impossible task (of course, you know I‘m about to do it anyway). Between the twenty tunes which make up Joyful Noise, there are sixteen different artists, sixteen different writers and sixteen different minds. Thus, in order to do something like this, you probably are going to need to find and STRESS any type of congruity. Thankfully, finding such a similarity between these sixteen (and I’m tempted to say seventeen because of THE mind which has to become, in effect, Batch, NiyoRah and Danny I to make the tune ‘We Want Reparations’) artists isn’t a very difficult thing to do. Presumably, everyone on Joyful Noise follows the path of His Imperial Majesty in this life and it well comes through musically speaking, however, that’s not the platform I’m going to use here (well, it kind of is, but not directly), this is:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
come before his presence with singing

If ever you ‘joyful noise’ in any context it’s almost always taken from at least a slightly biblical degree as is quoted here from Psalms 100. Now, should you take that and not even necessarily apply it to this album, but actually allow the album itself to develop within that scope, that elusive prevailing commonality becomes nearly crystal clear.

Of course we’re dealing with great spiritual exaltation throughout this album and not in the banal and dullish sense, but spirituality and FAITH in really ‘high tech’ means. You simply won’t find a reliance on the kind of tired rhetoric that unfortunately pervades much of Roots Reggae music. This is high quality MODERN material here. Instead, what you will find are songs and words which almost seem to be ‘sharpened’ in a certain direction and, again, not these very flat and broad type of things. And within that context, I think that for this purpose of seeking a genuine common meaning, the tune which is most ‘courteous’ in that regard is CLEARLY Arkaingelle’s Song Of Praise:

“Sing a song of joy
Sing a song of praise
Praises to The King
In each and every thing”

If that doesn’t set the foundation over which the other nineteen tunes are FREELY able to soar, then I don’t know what does. Or maybe I do:

“Flying high upon the wings of wings
A new is dawning and a new song fi sing
Give thanks to The Queen and to The King of Kings
Sipping water from The Holy Spring”

Which is where Jahdan goes on Flying High. Between these two tunes, in my opinion, the ground floor is laid and it is, in that regard, you begin to get TANGIBLE explanations such as Batch’s ‘Youths’ and Danny I’s ‘Hold On’. It is also these tunes which similar, but even further pinpointed tunes like Queen Omega’s Footsteps and Lutan Fyah’s ‘Discipline’, ‘use’ as a platform of sorts (almost like colourful explanations) (think crib notes, but without the negative connotation) to go in directions which may or may not be as immediately digestible and comprehendible. I also found it very interesting how the one tune here which stands out amongst the others, in terms of subjectry, Duane Stephenson’s increasingly amazing ‘I’m Fine’, also fits in. That tune is EASILY the most accessible and identifiable on Joyful Noise. You don’t have to have the vaguest idea of who Rastafari or even AFRIKA is to know what it is to have a broken heart and THAT is just as big a part of the life journey as any musical turn on this album DEFINITELY and to me, that song fits in with the social commentaries on the album, because all are tunes which fit into the context of everyday life experiences.

Therefore, we can conclude that the prevailing though t on Joyful Noise is NOT ONLY to make beautiful music for His Majesty, but it is to ALSO make beautiful music for the people of the world and not in the stale and lame sense (in that case, every album every could claim the same thing); but in the sense of keeping people up to date on the journey of life, good and bad, and ultimately showing the masses what exists in and outside of the proverbial ‘bubble’ of this world. We can also conclude that Joyful Noise is one of the greatest Reggae compilations of all time and a BONAFIDE MODERN REGGAE CLASSIC!

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